Kyle Larson‘s story is just unbelievable: a guy that races a bunch of dirt car races that made the move to NASCAR and ended up winning a championship in his first full year, while racing in a stock car.
Larson, 20, is an incredible talent. However, he may be getting rushed up to NASCAR’s top level sooner, rather than later. Who can blame him though, after finishing 14th in a road course race that he started out three laps behind the field? Yeah, he’s pretty spectacular.
This year, he’s been driving in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Turner-Scott Motorsports. One could say he’s sort of on a loan to the team. See, Larson is under a long-term contract with Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing, but they didn’t want to start up a NASCAR Nationwide Series team, while they’re still attempting to fix their NASCAR Sprint Cup Series program with Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray.
Now that Montoya will be leaving the team, there’s an open seat at Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing in the No. 42 Chevrolet. The car will still be sponsored by Target, and Larson has been sponsored by companies that have partnerships with Target for the majority of the season.
Larson has had two near wins. One of those came at Bristol, where he barely missed beating Kyle Busch off of turn four. The other was at Michigan, but he just couldn’t catch up to Regan Smith and took a second place finish instead.
However, Larson only has six top-five’s and 13 top-10′s, and is eighth in points. For someone with as high of expectations as Larson, he should probably be winning races by now. Being close is one thing, but in NASCAR, being close isn’t what gets a driver to the top. Sure, there’s guys like Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson that didn’t succeed in the lower NASCAR division right away, and then dominated at the top level right away, but let’s face it, is that possible with Larson?
It’s safe to say Larson does deserve a shot in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Yet, when he hasn’t won a Nationwide Series race through his first 23 career starts, can he be consistent enough to run up front in the toughest racing series there is?
Considering how much Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing has struggled for the past few years, shouldn’t they make the company better before taking the risk of turning Larson into another Casey Atwood? This year has been a turnaround for the organization, though they haven’t done too well compared to the rest of the competition. Montoya has four top-five finishes, including two near wins, but he just hasn’t performed consistently over the past seven seasons (including this year with just 14 lead lap finishes). McMurray has done far better than Montoya, and can still make the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup if he can win one of the next two races.
The level of consistency at that team is prepared to bring a driver such as Larson up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Larson has so much hidden talent that we haven’t seen yet. Why should the team risk his future just because they have an opening now? The guy only led one race for more than four laps, and that was at Bristol this past weekend. Sure, his performances have been stellar for the most part, but he’s been involved in five wrecks this year. He’s been more consistent as of late, but it isn’t race winning material.
However, then there’s the team factor. Turner-Scott Motorsports hasn’t been fighting for wins much this year. They’ve had a few races where they could have won, but just didn’t seal the deal. Maybe moving Larson up to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be a good way to judge Turner-Scott Motorsports’ performances, as well as comparing Larson to some of the all-time greats that started racing at his age.
Truthfully, Larson’s likely going to pilot the No. 42 car next season. The team needs to do whatever it can to give him experience though. Turner-Scott’s co-owner, Harry Scott Jr., just finalized a deal to purchase the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series. Justin Allgaier is going to pilot that car for a few races, and there’s no reason Larson won’t get a shot as well.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.